On Moral Mondays

by Shaker OtherBecky

[Content Note for all the typical hostilities intrinsic to the Republican platform.]

a mixed-race group of people protest at the North Carolina General Assembly building as part of a Moral Mondays demonstration
A May demonstration at the North Carolina General Assembly building in Raleigh
in support of 49 people arrested for peaceably protesting. [Photo via HuffPo.]

The genesis of Moral Mondays, the grassroots protests against the devastating actions of the legislature and governor of North Carolina, started in 2006 with the formation of a group called HKonJ, which stands for "Historic Thousands on Jones Street." (The North Carolina General Assembly is on Jones Street.) Every February, on the second Saturday of the month, thousands of people gather in downtown Raleigh and march to the General Assembly building.

For a full explanation of the need for Moral Mondays, placed in historical context, see this video of Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, who makes the case with his signature wit and humor. (Sorry, no transcript available.) If you don't have 80 minutes, and don't mind the fact that I'm way less eloquent than Dr. Barber on his worst day, keep on reading.

HKonJ was born out of the leadership of Rev. Dr. Barber, who is the president of the North Carolina NAACP, and the observation that those individuals, factions, and parties that support policies that are harmful to one oppressed group usually support policies that harm other oppressed groups, too. The HKonJ coalition now includes 147 advocacy groups (a list can be found here), representing a wide range of interests, from immigrants' rights to LGBT equality to environmental advocacy.

The current state government hasn't been contenting itself with targeting just one group. Thanks to the latest gerrymandering redistricting, the NC GOP's 54% of the votes for state legislature translated into a 64% supermajority. This has meant that, in addition to their more highly publicized antics like attempting to establish a state religion, they have done and continue to do serious damage to the state of North Carolina and its residents. Some examples:

Anti-choice legislation

● Rejection of federal funds that would have covered 500,000 people under Medicaid (S-4)

● Rejection of federal funds that would have extended unemployment benefits for 165,000 people whose benefits will be ending July 1, 2013 (H-4)—meaning while schools are out, meaning while subsidized breakfasts and lunches are unavailable to students and local food banks are already under strain

● Allowing the Earned Income Tax Credit to expire (H-82)

● Proposed cuts to school funding and teacher pay, when we have already gone from 21st in the nation to 46th in teacher pay in less than 10 years (S-402)

● Proposed cuts to personal income tax and elimination of corporate income tax, while increasing sales tax on goods and services (S-402)

● Eliminating public, non-partisan funding for judicial elections (S-402)

● Cutting NC Pre-K enrollment by 17,000 children, while 20,000 were already on a wait list (H-935)

● Expansion of charter schools (S-337) and introduction of school vouchers (H-944)

● Allowing county commissioners (generally more conservative) to overrule local school boards (S-236)

● Increasing allowed interest rates and fees for consumer lending (S-489)

● Up-front drug testing for Work First recipients at their own expense; the test costs $100, which will (supposedly) eventually be reimbursed if results are negative (S-594)

● Repeal of the Racial Justice Act (S-306): The Racial Justice Act allowed people sentenced to death to have their sentences commuted to life without parole if they could demonstrate that racial bias was a significant factor in sentencing

● Allowing companies to bypass regulations in order to explore for natural gas (S-76)

● Ending the estate tax, which currently applies only to estates worth more than $5.25 million and was paid by 23 families last year (H-101)

● Requiring photo ID for voters; IDs from private colleges will not count (H-589)

● Eliminating same-day voter registration and restricting early voting, including eliminating evening and weekend voting, all of which are overwhelmingly used by Democrats (S-666) (no, seriously, that's the real number)

● No longer allowing parents to claim as dependents children in college who register to vote in the county in which their school is located (S-667)

● Requiring convicted felons to wait five years after being released to apply to have their voting rights restored, which will be contingent on a unanimous vote by a local board (S-721)

● Instituting mental competency tests for voting (S-668)

● Prohibiting local governments from allowing public employees to earmark part of their paycheck for union dues, while still allowing it for Chamber of Commerce dues (H-667)

● Proposing to amend the state constitution to ban collective bargaining for public employees, which is already illegal

● Replacement of experts on public health and environmental policy boards with landowners, developers, and political appointees (H-1011)

Believe it or not, this is just the short list of the most egregious and most recent malfeasance. The sheer scope of it all has actually been working against protestors: It's impossible to effectively protest dozens of things at once.

For this reason, Moral Mondays are being organized along weekly themes. The most recent one was environment and health; the upcoming one (6/24) is centered on labor issues, immigration reform, and women's rights. Hopes are that it will be the biggest one yet, since it is the last one before unemployment benefits run out for the aforementioned 165,000 long-term unemployed North Carolinians. The statewide unemployment rate is down to 8.9%, but many counties still have double-digit unemployment rates.

This week, I went to my first Moral Monday. Officially, it started at 5 pm, but unofficially, people were definitely there earlier than that. There were groups distributing signs and posters for anyone who wanted one and hadn't brought their own. Lots of people had responded to the charges that the protestors are "outsiders" by bringing signs with their zip codes on them, or signs that explicitly listed how long they or their families have lived in North Carolina. Rev. Dr. Barber has repeatedly requested that all signs and slogans be for ideas or actions rather than against people or groups, and almost everyone that I saw had gone along with that.

I saw representatives from NARAL, the Human Rights Campaign, the NAACP, and other groups distributing flyers and asking for signatures. About two-thirds of the people I saw were listening to the various speakers on the central stage, while the rest were talking to each other. The majority of the crowd was white and over 35, and more than half were women (more demographic information here). It was also very clear that this is a religious movement.

Friends who had been to the sixth Moral Monday (held on June 10th) said that it had been much more explicitly religious, to the extent that some atheists in attendance felt distinctly unwelcome. Efforts had definitely been made to tone it down some: There was no crowd singing of religious songs during the time I was there, and most of the speakers were not members of the clergy, although there were quite a few members of the clergy from the Abrahamic religions in the crowd. I also didn't hear any talk of Jesus from the stage, although there was definitely talk of God and references to the Bible, primarily from the books of the prophets.

I'm of two minds on the explicitly religious character of Moral Mondays. I dislike the way it feeds into the trope that only theists are moral. On the other hand, and this perspective is definitely colored by my own Christian privilege, I am so tired of the language of faith being controlled by right-wing extremists. I think there is a need for progressive people of faith to loudly and publicly resist the monopoly that fundamentalists think they have on religion and morality. (This is not, by the way, an argument that they're not "real Christians"— just that I'm sick of them being the loudest, and often the only, voice.)

At about 6 pm, a group of protestors went into the Capitol rotunda, while others remained outside on the mall. The group that went in was led by those who had chosen to engage in civil disobedience and be arrested. The NC NAACP is asking that everyone who decides to be arrested attend a 3 pm training session beforehand. The training sessions have been held in various nearby churches; an announcement of the location for next week should show up on the NC NAACP website within the next couple of days. (You can also find a map of available parking in the vicinity of the Capitol there.) Inside the rotunda, those who had chosen to engage in civil disobedience remained on the ground floor, while others went up to the balcony. There were a few speeches, and some crowd singing of freedom & justice songs. At about 6:30, the Capitol police came in with bullhorns and asked everyone to disperse. Unlike previous weeks, the officers told protestors on the balcony that they could remain without being arrested as long as they stopped actively demonstrating (singing, clapping, chanting, etc). I have not heard any complaints about mistreatment by the Capitol police, even from friends and acquaintances who have been arrested.

I don't have any details about this week, but last week, the people who were arrested were put in plastic cuffs and taken to what appeared to be the cafeteria until the police had finished arresting everyone. They were then loaded into prison buses. Processing, including mug shots and fingerprinting, took quite a long time; one woman I know was not released until 5 am. I don't know how long things took for people who were arrested on the 17th. Arrestees were eventually brought before a magistrate and charged with trespassing and, I believe, disturbing the peace. (I could be wrong about that one, but there was a charge that encompassed "loud singing and chanting.") No bail is assessed, and the NAACP is providing legal defense. (They're also providing a meal afterward.)

teaspoon icon For people who can't or don't want to come to the rallies, for whatever reason, there are many other ways to help. Some of these are North-Carolinians-only, but some are things anyone can do.

● Join or donate to the NC NAACP (NC NAACP, PO Box 335, Durham NC 27702)

● Ask your local NC NAACP chapter when/whether they're helping provide supplies like food and bottled water, and contribute to that

● Write or call your state senator and representative (you can find out how they've voted on 10 critical bills here), either to thank them or to exhort them to do better

● Use the link above to find legislators who received non-zero scores from the NAACP, and write to them as a citizen of North Carolina thanking them for what they've done and asking them to do more

● Help with group or virtual phone banking against voter suppression

● Go here for other resources on fighting voter suppression

● Email settherecordstraight-at-nccivitas-dot-org to object to their creation of an online database of all those who have been arrested, including their mug shots. You can also contact them via Twitter or Facebook. (Supposedly, this is Art Pope's attempt to show that Moral Monday protestors don't "truly" represent real North Carolinians, but it seems more like intimidation tactics.)

● Go here to send Governor McCrory an email regarding the repeal of the Racial Justice Act

For people who do want to go to the rallies, if you'd like to turn it into an impromptu Shaker meetup, I'll post in one of the open threads this weekend to let y'all know what my sign is going to say.

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